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This page looks at how organisations collaborate on the projects that directly contribute to their overall mission.
Voluntary and community organisations working together on joint projects can make their frontline activities more effective and/or more efficient. If your collaboration successfully achieves one of these outcomes, it does not necessarily mean the other will follow as a matter of course.
It is trustees' responsibility to make sure that an organisation's activities further the aims set down in its governing document. So when deciding whether and how to collaborate on joint projects, the most important question is whether joint working will make you more effective for your beneficiaries.
Our 'Should you collaborate?' page offers more general guidance to help organisations make informed decisions about whether to collaborate.
60% of organisations responding to a survey on collaboration between voluntary organisations said that 'working with other charities takes more time than we expected.'
Although it can bring great benefits, working with other organisations is more complex than working alone. Its success rests on a combination of formal and informal ways of achieving good working relationships on both an organisational and an individual level.
It is essential to discuss how you will work together, defining roles, responsibilities and contractual or other legal obligations, and to get this in writing in a joint working agreement. People working in collaboration also cite the importance of values, such as trust, in their relationships. However, even where you have a pre-existing relationship and trust on which to build, preparation, planning and a written agreement can help you avoid misunderstandings.
It is important that staff and volunteers understand why their organisation is working collaboratively and have an insight to partners' aims and values. Time spent developing an understanding of partners' culture can help people from different organisations to work together.
Securing organisational commitment to the collaboration should lessen the impact of staff moving on and ensure that your own organisation supports this way of working with resources and understands the investment needed to make collaboration work.
Successful collaborative working takes time and long term benefits may only result from considerable effort as you set up and maintain joint working arrangements. Partners need to plan for and explain this to all stakeholders.
Organisations vary in the funding mix they rely on to support their work. When you work together, you need a funding plan for your joint work. This should clarify whether you aim to support the work with funding secured for that particular project and how much you intend to draw on each organisation's existing funds or unrestricted income. While it is sensible to draw on the strengths of each organisation in particular types of fundraising, joint working also provides an opportunity for organisations to learn from each other.
Charities must account for their collaborative projects in line with the Charities' Statement of Recommended Practice and describe the funding arrangements transparently in their annual accounts.
For good practice in securing and delivering public contracts with other voluntary organisations, please see our guidance on joint working agreements.
Someone in each organisation should be responsible for that partner's contribution to your joint project. Managers not used to joint decision-making may find the process time consuming and counter cultural. The key is to discuss and agree roles and responsibilities.
See 'Structures for joint projects' for the different ways that trustees oversee collaborative work.
The staff who deliver collaborative projects may do so as part of their existing post or they may be employed to work on a specific project. They may remain based in their own organisation or they may work in more than one location. In each case, careful planning and regular communication are essential for the arrangement to work well.
Clarity and consistency are key when a member of staff is working in more than one organisation. For instance, if there are disciplinary or grievance issues, the employee, employer and other organisation/s must all be clear on who has line management responsibility and therefore which organisation's policy and procedure to follow.
Working across organisations can be difficult for a member of staff. Terms and conditions, working practices and cultures vary between organisations and these factors can affect how valued, involved and supported staff working on a joint project may feel. It is important to be aware of such differences early on so you can decide how to handle them.
If new work involves staff moving from one employer to another, organisations may be affected by TUPE, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. Legal advice should be taken on whether this applies to you.
Poor communication is behind many of the disputes that threaten to stall collaborative working. A written agreement should minimise such misunderstandings. More informally, it is vital to keep lines of communication open, talking or meeting regularly and sticking to the schedule you devise for this together.
There may be a case for publicising that you are working collaboratively, although service users and the wider public are likely to be concerned only about the quality of the outcomes that collaboration achieves.
Such publicity can:
However, issues around publicity and branding can arouse strong feelings so they need sensitive handling. Joint projects have faltered over which organisation's name comes first in a press release.
A joint project may be seen as 'owned' by some partner organisations more than others, perhaps where organisations vary in their degree of operational involvement, financial investment or where one partner is already well-known.
From the beginning, it is wise to agree a joint branding policy that is consistent and fair. Getting this agreement in writing and securing commitment to it reduces the likelihood of action which might later cause conflict. In a large organisation where some staff may not be aware that a project is collaborative, this document can also guide how they present it externally.
Beneficiaries do not have to be aware that an activity is being delivered in partnership for the partnership to be successful. Regular reviews and users' feedback can help measure its impact.
Whatever changes partners may suggest, keep in mind why your organisation got involved in the first place and what will enable you to obtain the best outcome for your beneficiaries.
Each organisation can maintain its own identity or partners can together create new organisations to run activities. The following points outline these options, but do not provide a comprehensive guide. Different structures are right for different organisations depending on their aims for the collaboration. Professional advice should help work out what is best in each case.
Two or more separate organisations work together, but each organisation maintains its independence and its own identity.
Two or more organisations create a separate organisation to run activities for beneficiaries.
Some organisations set up new organisations so that they can separate the collaborative working element from the continuing activities of each partner. This may be appropriate where there are significant financial or liability risks involved in starting new joint work.
Creating a separate organisation formalises the way that the shared work is managed, meaning that none of the partners should benefit unfairly from the advantages or suffer disproportionately from the disadvantages possible when sharing services.
Last reviewed: 15 March 2016Help us improve this content
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